1st Concert -
Vassilis Varvaresos and Titus Gouvelis, regular collaborators of the Chamber Music Festival Chania for many years now, play together at the same piano for the first time. The theme of the Brahms variations they will perform four-hands is the last musical idea Robert Schumann committed to paper before his attemp at suicide. Of course, Schumann's musical ideas are generally of the highest artistic value, as his youthful piano masterpiece Carnival Scenes from Vienna clearly demonstrates.
Rising stars on the international chamber music scene, the Trio Zimbalist, all of whom are graduates of Philadelphia's renowned Curtis Institute, make their Festival debut with one of the most charming trios ever written: the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s sensuous offering
JOHANNES BRAHMS - Variations on a theme by Schumann for piano, four hands, opus 23
ROBERT SCHUMANN - Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Scenes from Vienna), opus 26
BEDŘICH SMETANA - Piano trio in G minor, opus 15
On 17 February 1854, Robert Schumann composed a simple but beautiful chorale-like theme in E flat major. The mental disorder that had been troubling him for years was in the ascendant, and not only did he fail to realize that the theme was very similar to that of the slow movement of the Violin Concerto he had composed just months before, he actually believed that it had been dictated to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn. Over the next ten days, Schumann composed five piano variations on the theme. However, his work was interrupted when, on 27 February, he attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine. Passers-by rescued him and the next day, in a moment of clarity, he dedicated these variations to his wife Clara; they were to be the last music he wrote. On 4 March, he was transferred to an asylum, where he remained until his death in July 1856.
For Clara, the theme of these variations, which she called a "final thought", would be sacred ever after. In 1861, she entrusted it to Johannes Brahms, a composer who had enjoyed the admiration of the Schumanns from their very first meeting in September 1853, and who had stood by Clara's side during the difficult years after Robert's death. Which is how Brahms came to compose ten variations for piano duet on his mentor's "final thought", and publish them in 1863. It was the first original work of his for four hands to be published, and the only work for four hands (of those with an official opus number) that does not exist in any other form. Brahms clearly pays homage to Schumann's musical style in his development of the variations. He closely follows the structure and harmonic development of the theme, although he is rather adventurous in his choice of keys, since three variations are in minor keys, and the fifth variation is written in the distant key of B major. Brahms dedicated these Variations to the Schumanns’ third daughter, Julia, who was also the most beautiful of the sisters. In all likelihood, Brahms harboured romantic feelings for the young girl. He never expressed them, however, and she married a nobleman in 1869.
Theme. Leise und innig
Variation 1. L'istesso Tempo. Andante molto moderato
Variation 5. Poco più animato
Variation 6. Allegro non troppo
Variation 7. Con moto. L'istesso tempo
Variation 8. Poco più vivo
Variation 10. Molto moderato, alla marcia
It is striking that the young Robert Schumann composed the vast majority of his major piano works, which remain prominent in the concert repertoire to this day, within a single decade, between 1830 and 1839. This manic turn to the piano was due both to the familiarity he enjoyed with the instrument as a pianist, and to his tempestuous love for Clara Wieck, one of the greatest pianists of her era. After Robert and Clara married in 1840, Robert's compositional interest would begin to systematically expand into other areas, including Lieder, chamber music and symphonic works. In 1839, Schumann travelled to Vienna with a view to expanding his artistic activity to the city. Although no opportunities presented themselves there, the composer wrote the first four movements of his Carnival Scenes from Vienna on the way (he would complete the fifth shortly afterwards, on his return to Leipzig). The work was intended for Clara, who was to give a series of concerts in Paris and had asked Robert for something "bright and easy to understand... a complete and uniform work, without special titles, neither too long nor too short".
Her wish would be granted in full. This five-movement work falls somewhere between a sonata and a suite. The composer himself described it on one occasion as a "grand romantic sonata" and on another as a "demonstration piece for piano". The first and longest movement is a rondo whose main theme is an extremely danceable waltz. The six episodes interspersed between its reappearances include one in which the composer makes a fleeting reference to the Marseillaise—a particularly sardonic choice, given that the melody was linked to revolution and was banned at the time both in Austria (by Metternich's conservative government) and in France (following the restoration of the monarchy). The three central movements are unusually short: an austere melodic romance, a playful little scherzo with a highly dotted rhythm, and a torrid intermezzo (the most emotionally charged of the work’s movements). The finale is written in sonata-rondo form and provides a spectacular and brilliantly virtuosic conclusion to the piece.
Of the four daughters born to Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, three died in infancy. His eldest daughter, Friederike (nicknamed Fritzi), who had shown the first signs of an exceptional musical talent, died on 6 September 1855, aged just four and a half. Devastated by the loss of his beloved daughter, Smetana tried to ease his pain by composing the Trio in G minor and dedicating it to her memory. He began work on the piece immediately after the girl's death and completed it very quickly, on 22 November that same year. The première performance took place on 3 December 1855 in Prague, with the composer at the keyboard. The work received a lukewarm reception from the public, who were put off by its emotionally-charged style, deeply elegiac mood, and the liberties the composer took with the form. Smetana was not entirely satisfied with the work’s form, either, and even though the great pianist and composer Franz Liszt would express his admiration for the Trio in 1856, he went on to revise the work three times, until it reached its final form in 1858. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the work published in Leipzig, Smetana finally saw the Trio published in 1880.
All three movements of the Trio are written in the key of G minor. The first movement begins by creating a distinctly sombre mood. The descending intervals (fifths, especially) in the first theme are strongly reminiscent of sighs. The second theme provides an elegiac, nostalgic note (the composer noted that the theme was related to a favourite melody of his lost daughter). However, the development section that follows restores, and indeed reinforces, the gloomy mood of the opening, before a reflective piano solo "stops the clock" for a while (before the customary recapitulation of the two main themes). The second movement is a charming and rhythmically spry scherzo with two trio sections, one gently melodic, the other more dramatic. The finale is somewhat manic: the frantic speed of the initial passages would seem to have been dictated by the composer's despair at the time of its writing. As the movement progresses, however, the cello introduces a new melodic idea which represents redemption from suffering and will be heard with due grandeur just before the brief—but explosive—coda.
1. Moderato assai - Più animato
2. Allegro, ma non troppo
3. Finale. Presto